The Davies legacy

David Davies had an oversight of FA publicity and publications, so it was extraordinary that rather than pass eventual judgment on the excreable diary Glenn Hoddle wrote on the 1998 World Cup, he should actually become the ghost writer of it!

Recently retired from senior office at the Football Association, David Davies has been giving us the benefit of his wit and wisdom in a series of long newspaper articles, suggesting ways in which the English game might be improved. I have known the former BBC television political correspondent well for many years and always found him a likeable, humorous and lively fellow. But looking back over his many years at the FA, various significant moments come to mind.

Where I do cross swords with him is in his retrospective attempt to justify the fatuous and irrelevant Club World Cup in Brazil in 2000 which he defends as an excellent innovation, still alas with us. Since its uneasy inception, it has grown in size and scope but still looks like one of those misguided innovations by the FIFA President Sepp Blatter, which once as we know moved an ironic German journalist to declare, “Sepp Blatter has 50 new ideas every day, and 51 of them are bad.” The sad truth being that, as the great Italian competitor and double World Cup winner Vittorio Pozzo lamented long ago, there are far too many international competitions. And alas since I heard him say that during the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, they have proliferated in alarming numbers.

Besides eulogising the whole idea of this tournament, Davies tries to convince us that the FA, with the fervent support of the then, much derided sports minister, the late Tony Banks, were absolutely right to put pressure on Manchester United, who were then the FA Cup holders, to set a historical precedent by withdrawing from the subsequent 2000 FA Cup competition, in favour of the half-baked tournament in Brazil. The reason, according to Davies and to the egregious Banks, being that if Manchester United wouldn’t go, then England would lose their chance of staging the 2006 World Cup.

Well, they didn’t get it, anyway, as might have been expected since it was well known that Bert “The Inert” Millichip, then the flaccid Chairman of the Football Association, had done a deal with the Germans, leaving them a clear run for the 2006 World Cup in return for standing aside to let England put on the Euro 1996 finals. When the FIFA voting kicked in, England were hopelessly out of the race. So much for bullying Manchester United who, in subsequent years, were quite often and so unfairly blamed for pulling out of the FA Cup.

I’m also reminded of an FA Cup game at Highbury between Arsenal and Sheffield United. At one point in the second-half, United put the ball out of play to allow an injured player to be treated. Common practice then, as now, decreed that when the opposing side took the throw in, the ball would go to the team which had put the ball out.

Evidently no one had apprised Arsenal’s tall Nigerian striker, Kanu, of this practice which in fact had no basis in football law. So it was that while the Sheffield United looked on aghast, Kanu trundled the ball down the right hand touchline, before crossing into the vacant goalmouth, where it was duly tapped in, the referee pointing for what would have been a winning goal.

Steve Brice, then the Blades’ manager, was incensed. But at the Press Conference, the Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, graciously but erroneously said that he thought the result should not stand but that the game should be replayed.

That evening as luck had it, David Davies, in the absence of more senior officials, was holding the fort at the FA. He instantly supported Wenger and decreed that the match indeed should be replayed; which it duly was.

But it certainly should not have been. ‘Dura lex sed leex’, said the Romans, a hard law, but still the law. Whatever the manifest injustice of what had happened, the referee had given exactly the right decision in allowing the goal, rather then applying an unwritten rule. Which meant that his authority and his efficiency had been unjustly impugned.

Controversial too was Davies’ role in the case of Glenn Hoddle, England’s manager in the 1998 World Cup in France. At that period, Davies had an oversight of FA publicity and publications, so it was extraordinary that rather than pass eventual judgment on the excreable diary Hoddle wrote on the World Cup, he should actually become the ghost writer of it!

Tactless and indiscreet, I told of how the ever volatile Paul Gascoigne, informed in Hoddle’s hotel room at training camp that he would be dropped from the World Cup squad, flew into a rage, smashed a lamp, and seemed on the brink of attacking Hoddle himself. There were similar indiscretions on the subject of David Beckham and his sending off in the match against Argentina for a petulant kick at the provocative Diego Simeone; though it was true Hoddle had warned him against such excess. Hoddle, however, kept his job.

But he lost it when, in an interview with ‘The Times’, he opined that some sufferers from physical disabilities were paying the price for their misdemeanours in previous incarnations. In fact this wasn’t the first time he had expressed such opinions. But there was an instant out, the very Prime Minister, Tony Blair, stated in a breakfast television programme, that he thought Hoddle would be dismissed; as he was. And it was David Davies who announced his dismissal!